Jing Lin had to recuperate for quite a while before the color returned to his face. His neck and temples were sweat-soaked, and he looked weary and listless. In just an instant, he actually appeared a little sickly. Cang Ji wiped away his cold sweat and watched him gasp for breath with half-closed eyes. He seemed to be even smaller than he usually was.
“I shouldn’t have teased you with my impudent remarks.” The murderous intent in Cang Ji’s eyes faded away, leaving only calmness behind. He was still hugging Jing Lin. Jing Lin felt small and light to him. He pushed Jing Lin’s back to let him lean against his shoulder. It did not take him any effort at all to spin a few rounds around the room.
Jing Lin’s chest had just settled down and his back was soaked. Both his arms partially hung over Cang Ji’s shoulders as he continued to gasp with his head lowered.
Taking advantage of the fact that Jing Lin could not see under the darkness of the dwelling, Cang Ji gradually slowed his hand that had been soothing Jing Lin’s back and placed it over the middle of his back to transfer his dragon aura over.
“I frightened you in the daytime.” Cang Ji tilted his head to whisper to him, “And so you decide to scare me back at night? It’s so bad when it acts up. Yet you never deemed it fit to mention it to me all this while.”
Jing Lin’s temples were drenched. On hearing this, he shook his head. His voice was still hoarse. “I have no affliction of the heart, nor do I have any latent illness. This has never happened to me before.”
“Where does it hurt?”
During the flare up earlier, Jing Lin had clutched the front of his clothes so tightly that it was all wrinkled At the moment, he could hardly be bothered to tidy it. After a moment of silence, he replied, “Chest, head, and abdomen.”
“All three are vital parts.” Cang Ji’s heart sank.
“My spiritual sea has no countermeasures either.” Jing Lin said, “It’s truly powerful.”
“It won’t be a strong medicine.” Cang Ji brushed aside Jing Lin’s damp hair. “If it’s too potent, it won’t be able to escape your notice. Since it can remain hidden in your body for so long, then it’s clear that it’s not something that appeared overnight, but something nurtured over the years.”
Jing Lin went so quiet that even that sound of his gasping had stopped. He was sharp, and he could take a guess from Cang Ji’s words. Only those close to him would be able to maintain this thing in his body on the quiet—a thing that was a medicine but not a medicine, and a poison yet not a poison.
“It isn’t easy for you to cultivate the Way of the Sword, and emotions give rise to too many unpredictable variables in your cultivation. While you were in the sect, Lord Jiu Tian must have surely warned you to ‘sever your emotions and desires’. To expedite your cultivation, he must have gone to great efforts.” Cang Ji hugged him and listened to the sound of the Blood Sea’s tides outside the small dwelling. “When I saw how your eyes were as clear as a child’s despite your cold expression, I knew that he must have taught you to harbor no extraneous thoughts in your heart and to steer clear of romantic affairs just so he could get a sword of utmost purity.”
Not only that, he also wanted him to be heartless and merciless. The brothers were as estranged as strangers, yet jealousy and suspicions were rife among them. Lord Jiu Tian looked on coldly from the sidelines and even showered great kindness on Jing Lin on purpose, all because he wanted the brothers to hate Jing Lin, to keep their eyes on Jing Lin. While Jing Lin was at the compound, he hardly had the chance to have warm meals. If it were not for Li Rong looking after him, he would not even get his hands on the leftovers. Before he attained the Spiritual Amassment Stage, Jing Lin’s outfits were always ill-fitting. At thirteen years of age, he was ranked last among the brothers. It was only when he dragged along his loose clothes to train all night long that he was able to catch up with the others’ cultivation progress.
How could Jing Lin not know of this?
Anyone of sound mind would understand what ‘making things difficult for someone’ was! But he could not admit defeat. He could not bring himself to act shamelessly and unreasonably like Tao Zhi. He had to stand on his own, because that was all he could do. Ever since the moment he kneeled and kowtowed, Yan Quan became his original form. From that time on, this was his Way. All along, this had been the only path spread out before him.
If a sword wanted to shine in its full brilliance, then he could only temper it with perseverance and consistency. All sufferings and difficulties were tools to hone himself with. No matter what they imposed on him, Jing Lin treated them all as experience. If the brothers did not like him, then Jing Lin would not care for it. Gradually, he made his way to the front. He always looked ahead, and never looked back. However, none of these were reasons enough for Lord Jiu Tian to bind him.
He had a heart.
He knew of sorrow and distress, and he understood good and evil. He staked everything on this Way. Everything in the world was as transient as fleeting clouds, but no one could arbitrarily put the shackles on him. No matter who he fell in love with, or did not love, they were all his choices to make as Jing Lin. This was a right even Lord Jiu Tian as his “father” could not deprive him of.
◈ ◈ ◈
Jing Lin let out a breath and said, “Since it could be hidden this deep, then it won’t be easy to remove it. We have to first understand what exactly it is. When the attack occurred, my mind went dizzy, and it was hard to remain awake. My chest seemed as if it was being chained. Only the residual heat in the abdomen rose.”
Cang Ji’s palm paused mid-action. He said, “Since we have time now, then strip and show me.”
Jing Lin clenched the front opening of his clothes tightly and said, “It’s hidden inside the body. It’s useless even if you look at my abdomen.”
“I saw your face turning green when it flared. So I was wondering if something might have surfaced. This kind of spell will definitely reveal some clues when it acts up.” Cang Ji released his hand and took a step back. His expression was stern and solemn.
All his life, Jing Lin had never undressed before anyone else. His courtyard was remote, and he hardly had any visitors. If he got injured, he would clean up the wounds himself with closed eyes. Telling him to strip now before Cang Ji and bare his lower abdomen to him was simply much harder than cultivating the Way of the Sword!
Jing Lin could not help but shuffled back. He said, “I can see. I’ll take a look myself…”
The expression on Cang Ji’s face was bland, but in his heart, he had already trampled Lord Jiu Tian into a pancake. He had genuinely and sincerely wanted to seek out some clues, but now, Jing Lin’s reaction had ignited the feralness in him.
Cang Ji’s tone was low and deep. “It’s pitch-dark now. If you don’t look at close quarters, you won’t be able to see anything. Look at how worried I am. I won’t be so devoid of conscience that I’d tease you at this time.”
Jing Lin still had trepidation. “…I will feel giddy.”
Cang Ji leaned over and braced himself with his arms. He said, “I know my limits. I won’t tease you. You don’t understand all these. It’s only when you’re teased that your heartbeat will speed up.”
Jing Lin looked at his eyes near at hand and asked, “Did that happen because of the teasing?”
“Because I said I want to kiss you.” Cang Ji said. “I won’t kiss now.”
Jing Lin said, “I don’t believe you. That’s what you said earlier too.”
“I’m a scoundrel.” Cang Ji gently touched Jing Lin’s fingers and pointed at his chest. “If I kiss you later, you can kick me right here.”
After a moment of silence, Jing Lin said, “I’ll only strip the upper garment.”
Cang Ji watched him loosen his grip and said, “If you feel weak, you can leave the stripping to me.”
“I’ve heard from Li Rong.” Jing Lin clutched his clothes tightly again. “That the flower thieves1 at the foot of the mountain like to speak this way too.”
Cang Ji said, “I’m not a flower thief! Hurry and strip. If you miss the timing, then I’ll do it for you myself.”
For no rhyme or reason, Jing Lin was nervous. He undid his clasps with sweaty fingers under Cang Ji’s gaze. There was clearly some distance between them, but Jing Lin felt as though he could taste Cang Ji’s scent every time he breathed. His mind went blank again.
“Not here.” Cang J suddenly led Jing Lin’s hand down and gently tugged his waist belt open. His outer garment loosened at once. “Just lift the garment to expose your waist, and we’ll be able to see it. Little ancestor,2 hurry. “
Jing Lin closed his eyes and composed himself before he raised his fingers to push aside his upper garment. His inner garment3 was neat and well-made. He rolled it up to reveal his waist and abdomen. Cang Ji’s eyes remained fixed on it. He suddenly extended his hands to grab hold of Jing Lin’s ankles and pulled him into a level position to expose his entire waist and abdomen before him.
Jing Lin widened his eyes and stared at the pitch-black roof with slightly quickened breathing. His waist and abdomen felt a little cold, and yet it felt a little hot too. It took him a long time to realize that the heat came from the air Cang Ji exhaled. Jing Lin raised an arm out of the blue and laid it across his face to shield it.
Cang Ji looked at the narrow waist and noted how he could embrace it with just one arm. The contours on both sides revealed no excess fat. The snow-white inner garment had been rolled up until it was disarrayed. There was even a length of it that had fallen to cover up that fair, delicate dip. Further down, it was so smooth and flat that it could accommodate the caress of a palm. Like porcelain, it was satiny. It had never seen much of the light before, and yet the muscles were well-defined, with the clean lines extending all the way to his abdomen. The parts further down disappeared into the edge of his pants to lay concealed within. With each breath Jing Lin took, that abdomen heaved up and down along, as if seducing Cang Ji to go wild with it.
Cang Ji heard a sound in his ears. After a pause, it dawned on him that Jing Lin was chanting the sutra under his breath!
“Baldy4 can’t protect you at this moment. Rather than chanting sutras, you might as well call me ‘gege’ a few times.” Cang Ji leaned down and pushed up Jing Lin’s upper garment.
Jing Lin said quietly through clenched teeth, “Did you see it?”
“Uh-huh…” Cang Ji’s sword-shaped eyebrows5 tightened into a frown as he stared at the pattern on the abdomen that had already mostly disappeared. He said, “Barely enough. That’s strange. I don’t recognize what spell it is. But it’s different from those usual spells used to poison and bewitch the mind and heart of others.”
Jing Lin peeped out from under his arm. He asked, “What is it like?”
“Hard to get the entire view of it.” As Cang Ji spoke, he placed his palm over it and traced a round along the pattern with his fingertip. “The color leans towards the dark side. Ever seen the dragon? It’s the same color as his scales.”
“The color of carp?”6
Cang Ji patted the side of Jing Lin’s waist. “Dragon!”
That waist was really pitiable. Just a pat like this, and it actually flushed red. The mark Cang Ji left behind made Jing Lin’s breathing hitch. His fingers grasped on tightly to the fabric of his clothes.
“Never seen before!”
“You will see him in days to come!”
Depressed, Jing Lin frowned. “What shape is it?”
“What shape can a dragon have?”
“I’m talking about the spell!” Jing Lin suddenly struggled to prop his upper body up. His fair face was reddened. He said, “There is an arcane art of drawing in the east which leaves patterns on the body. It will materialize once the spell flares up. This… where are you touching?”
Cang Ji suddenly grabbed him around the waist and turned him over to pin him on the couch. A puff of dust assaulted Jing Lin in the face. He coughed and supported himself with his arms. There was a weight on his legs as Cang Ji straddled him. The sudden pressure on his back forced Jing Lin down until he was sprawled among the bedding.
“You!” Jing Lin choked, “… Heavy!”
“As expected, it has spread to the back of the waist.” Cang Ji ignored him and pushed his clothes up to reveal most of his back.
The pattern was bizarre. It headed up and wound around the middle of Jing Lin’s back. Exaggerated and terrifying, it looked like thistles and thorns. But Cang Ji clearly remembered that when he had turned Jing Lin over to bully him in the pool back then, there had only been the remnants of scars on his back.
So it would only materialize when Jing Lin had to sever his emotions and desires? Then what could be considered “desire”? Were carnal pleasure and sexual lust not it? Did it require Jing Lin’s heart to be moved by love before it would hold him prisoner and suppress those feelings?
Cang Ji still felt something off. Was it possible that this was not the doing of Lord Jiu Tian? Then they would have made the wrong assumptions. But apart from Lord Jiu Tian, who would treat Jing Lin like this? Moreover, exactly what was this thing prohibiting? Organizing his thoughts simply got him nowhere.
“Don’t move.” Cang Ji said, “Where are you crawling? Only tortoises crawl!”
“What’s there on my back?” Jing Lin asked.
“Not telling you.”
Jing Lin said, “That won’t do!”
“No? Why not?!” Supporting his weight with each arm on Jing Lin’s left and right, Cang Ji caged Jing Lin in and said, “The patterns have already crawled down to your backside. When I pry you open in a few more days, Jing Lin will be just a ball of black mass!”
Jing Lin covered his ears again and said, “You’re bluffing me. Why would it extend to the buttocks? It’s not sealing that part off.”
Cang Ji said, “Shouldn’t it be there if it’s meant to seal away love and desires?”
With red eyes, Jing Lin turned his head around and said to him, “Love, love doesn’t come from there.”
Supporting himself with his arms, Cang Ji hung his head down and exchanged gazes with him for a long, long time. He said, “Call me gege a few times, and I’ll teach you something fun. When you head out in the future, you won’t be that easily cheated. Don’t always listen to those wild tales that Li Rong cooked up. He knows nuts about this.”
“I’m not learning.” Jing Lin felt that Cang Ji was about to indulge in “debauchery” again, so he could not help but bury his head, exposing only the back of his head to him.
Cang Ji gently patted the back of his waist with his palm and said, “You are already lying under me, and you tell me you aren’t learning? Hurry up and call me. This is a rare opportunity.”
Jing Lin’s voice trembled. “That’s not what you said earlier.”
“I didn’t kiss you.” Cang Ji said. “I meant what I said.
Jing Lin said quietly, “What do you want to say? It can’t be any impudent remarks.”
“I assure you that it won’t be impudent.” Cang Ji lowered his voice and whispered beside his ear. “I’ll teach you to understand something, and I’ll do it with words, not actions. Can’t I even ask you to call me gege a few times as payment for the tutoring? You and I have already been stranded here for a day and a night. Jing Lin, if we can’t get out, you will never understand it this lifetime.”
“If it isn’t anything impudent, then there will naturally be books in the sect for me to study.”
“Go back and search the courtyards of those brothers of yours. They will most definitely have books. If they don’t, I will call you gege.”
Jing Lin revealed his eyes to stare at him. Cang Ji lowered his eyes, looking all solemn and gentlemanly.
“…Ge.” Jing Lin choked. “Gege.”
Feeling good, Cang Ji temporarily put aside this matter with Lord Jiu Tian or whoever it was behind it. He bent down to stick to Jing Lin and said, “When you fall for someone, you will still have to depend on this.”
He patted Jing Lin’s derrière lightly. His eyes were so wicked it was as if he was about to let himself loose any moment now.
“This is where the bedroom pleasures are.”
- 采花贼 literally flower thief; i.e. rapist.
- 小祖宗, literally little ancestor. A term used by parents or other adults when they complain or reproach a child for misbehavior. i.e., brat or little devil.
里衣 (or also 中衣) This is the set of garment people in ancient days wore under their outer robes. They usually sleep in this.
- He meant Buddha
剑眉 literally sword-brows; straight eyebrows that slants upwards and outwards
- There is a saying “carp leaping over the Dragon Gate” (鲤鱼跳龙门). Dragon Gate (龙门) is a mythical dragon gate where a carp can transform and evolve into a dragon. Jing Lin has never seen a dragon before so he’s probably just associating it with the carp.